Unfortunately no reading material was available in time for this preview but I was a huge fan of Szalay's Man Booker-shortlisted All That Man Is. Alan Hollinghurst put it very well in the Guardian: "A revelation... Not only of a brilliantly inventive and observant writer... but of new possibilities for the novel as a form." This is an original BBC Radio 4 commission and the stories will be broadcast on Radio 4 over 12 weeks between October and December this year. Twelve diverse protagonists circumnavigate the world in 12 journeys to see lovers and parents, children and siblings, or nobody at all....
With its sweeping vision of a complex, interconnected world always in motion, it feels like Turbulence is attempting to do on a global scale what Szalay’s last book, All That Man Is, did for Europe... What Turbulence shares with its predecessor is Szalay’s characteristically effortless prose, his ability to distil lives into vignettes, the sense of an author whose curiosity about his fellow humans is boundless. The 21st century, Turbulence suggests, is taking place several miles above the earth, or in overlit and anonymous airports. Szalay is our greatest chronicler of these rootless, tradeworn places, and the desperate, itinerant lives of those who inhabit them.
Turbulence is written in a similar idiom and has a similar structure to All That Man Is, but it pushes the minimalism further. The result is a more obviously elegant book, in a way that’s artful rather than arty, with little appreciable loss of narrative drive. The basic structure is simple. It’s a book of 12 stories, each constructed around, and named after, a flight: “LGW — MAD”, “MAD — DSS”, “DSS — GRU”, etc. The principal character of each new story is a minor figure from the preceding one, and the final story loops back to a character from the first one, as also happened in All That Man Is... Page by page, though, Szalay’s mixture of directness and withholding looks increasingly masterly.
Now Szalay has pared his approach down even further in Turbulence. In just 136 pages he tells 12 stories, this time overtly linked in a handing-on the baton fashion, travelling around the globe... So the subject again is not just human displacement, separation and loneliness but mortality itself, the way things happen and then “nothing will ever be the same again”. Turbulence, told so limpidly that it may seem quite slight, is a chilling achievement.